Teaching to Learn and Learning to Teach

Perfectionism, Guilt, and a Scapegoat

While I was thinking through perfectionism and guilt, I found that I was having difficult, grumpy conversations with people.

I wasn’t able to meet my own standard of perfection and now I was looking for someone else to blame. I was devastated when someone pointed out my error and frustrated when someone upsets my plans or what I felt I had to do. It’s my standard and I can’t meet it so I have to blame someone otherwise I have to bear the guilt.

By making myself the lawmaker, I erected my own laws according to my own kingdom purposes, and I judged anyone who got in my way. This may take the form of depriving one’s children of the appropriate amount of food or of adequate clothing in order to be a good steward or one may think that loving one’s neighbor means she has to have every neighbor over for dinner each month, or that working as unto the Lord means that one must put in 80 hours a week.

Elyse Fitzpatrick explains that “elevating personal preferences to the status of moral rightness ultimately makes life oppressive.” (Overcoming Fear, Worry, and Anxiety 91). It leads to fear when one cannot obey his own standard, panic when others fail expectations, and “the nagging feeling that everything is about to blow up” (Overcoming Fear, Worry, and Anxiety 91). Amen! I now see that that was true of my life.

Recognizing that I was punishing others for my failure to meet my own standards has made a huge difference in my social life. I now spend more time with others and am more gracious to others when they fail, even though I have a long way to go. I see things as more of an opportunity and less burdensome.

One key moment illustrated this change in my life. One of my intern messed up. It was a small thing, it wasn’t eternal, but it was a common sense thing and she messed up in front of my boss. That would have absolutely devastated me five months ago and I would have punished my intern with my disdain and coldness. In this case I let her know how she should do that task in the future.There was a second of “I want to run away. I’m not good enough at this job,” but instead of lasting anywhere from one day to a week and starting a downward spiral, it lasted less than a minute.


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